African viewpoint: Ghana's bellyful of scandal

 
A Ghanaian football with his body painted in the Black Stars' colours at the Africa Nations Cup in February 2008

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene - who was a minister in Ghana's former NPP government - looks at a financial controversy that has left many Ghanaians agog.

Usually in Ghana when there is an Africa Cup of Nations football competition going on, everybody concentrates their attention on the national team, the Black Stars.

This time around you would not have thought there were things going on in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon that required our concerted attention.

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To understand what has gone on, you need to have the skills of a lawyer... a forensic auditor, a music composer and a very big heart”

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We drifted in and out - and hoped the Black Stars would win their matches.

In truth, we have been preoccupied, even consumed by a very Ghanaian scandal.

It is a financial controversy that has already led to the sacking of an attorney general; the resignation of a former attorney general; the arrest and appearance before court of two top civil servants and a businessman.

The latter is known as a financier of the ruling National Democratic Congress.

And it looks like even bigger names could be swept up in the scandal by the time it has run its course. When the story first broke it sounded too bizarre to be credible - to borrow the words of the president of the republic.

Certain symmetry

To understand exactly what has gone on, you need to have the skills of a lawyer, an accountant, a forensic auditor, a music composer and a very big heart.

The story has certain symmetry.

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Ghana's Asamoah Gyan on the field at the Africa Cup of Nations in February 2012

Footballer Asamoah Gyan tried to replace Mr Woyome as public enemy number one when he did what he has become famous for and missed a critical penalty ”

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It all started when Ghana won the rights to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2008 - and it all began unravelling during the just finished tournament.

And at the centre of the scandalous story are the splendid stadia that were built around the country for the football tournament.

In 2009, the aforementioned businessman managed to convince the then attorney general that the government of Ghana owed him money.

According to him, a contract he had to build the football grounds was cancelled illegally by the previous government of then-President John Kufuor.

The businessman's claims were not scrutinised or challenged.

Why? The reasons are not quite clear. But I suspect it is because the new government of President John Atta Mills appears to be predisposed to see evil and corruption in everything the previous government has done.

So, the businessman went to court to seek compensation - by which time the sum of money he was claiming had undergone many inexplicable upward changes.

The attorney general decided not to contest the claims, and the businessman emerged from court a much richer man, having been granted what is called a judgement debt of 58m cedis (£22m; $34m) or any figure up to 103m cedis - depending on which Ghanaian newspaper you read.

Stink bomb

It is worth pointing out that usually it is agonisingly slow trying to get anything through the courts in Ghana.

But somehow our businessman/party financier got his matters through the courts in record time.

The Ghana government is even more notorious when it comes to paying its debts - but again this time around our businessman/party financier was paid very quickly.

We in Ghana are easily impressed and overawed by the kind of money being talked about.

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People might not understand financial engineering, but they certainly like the sound of 'gargantuan crimes'”

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And people want to know why the nation's top lawyers had opted not to go to court and defend our interests and allowed the businessman to walk away with the type of money that could have provided safe water to many villages, built many schools and fixed many roads.

The concept of financial engineering - which was what the man claimed to have done to justify him being paid such monies - is too obtuse for many to understand.

In the midst of it all, the attorney general detonated a stink bomb.

He claimed, among other things, that a government minister was trying to frustrate his attempts to prosecute a ruling party member who had perpetrated "gargantuan crimes" against the people of Ghana.

People might not understand financial engineering, but they certainly like the sound of "gargantuan crimes" and, coupled with the name of the businessman, Alfred Woyome, Ghanaians are having a lot of fun.

As we watch the president try to extricate himself from the questions that must be asked: What did the president know, when did he know and what did he do about it?

For one brief moment on 8 February, footballer Asamoah Gyan tried to replace Mr Woyome as public enemy number one when he did what he has become famous for and missed a critical penalty in the semi-final against Zambia, now Africa's new footballing champions.

But it did not work. Right now nothing is taking Mr Woyome and "gargantuan crimes" off the headlines - not even the Black Stars who broke our hearts.

If you would like to comment on Elizabeth Ohene's column, please do so below.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 16.

    Elizabeth, to be honest am disgusted at the poor and bias reporting you just posted. This is not journalism, this is a political article. For such a woman like you who has traveled around the world, I expect more from you. This is subjective article that does not point out anything but hatred. Please report and leave the politics behind. You are on BBC, is a world stage. News not politics

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    Comment number 15.

    This story requires common sense and no other skill. If anyone who served under Kufour's administration and or anyone in Ghana's parliament can answer where ex-president Kufour obtained/inherited the authority to unilaterally award the contract to a Chinese firm in the middle of public bidding process that should be the end of this fiasco.

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    Comment number 14.

    Thank you EO for the article. At last, your article has given me clear understanding of what ''Woyome Gate'' is about. neneazu, you sound like a member of the incumbent party. you are the kind of people who turn to blame when we are finding a solution to a problem. For Asamoah Gyan; he broke our heart but we are healed now. After all, Drogba also missed. We need the £22 m back to improve lives.

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    Comment number 13.

    Ghana's President John Atta Mills MUST steady his party's ship following this high-profile corruption case that has blown up in an election year. Mills has had to sanction the arrest of key ruling party financier Alfred Agbesi Woyome after his indictment for fraud by the west African country's Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) as the drive against top-level graft gathers momentum.

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    Comment number 12.

    Other issues are legal justification for differentiating between procurement process (abrogated) & the contract signed on 26th April 2006; why money was paid to Austro-Invest through Mr. Woyome & not Waterville; contract between Govt of Ghana & Alfred Woyome; DISAPPEARANCE signed copy of agreement of 26th April 2006, constitutional basis for pymt with NO parliamentary approval of agreement.

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    Comment number 11.

    In memorandum, Mr Nerquaye-Tetteh summarised issues:
    - request for annexes of documents referred to in Mr Woyome's letter 18th February 2010;
    - copy of Power of Attorney between Astro-Invest & Alfred Woyome upon which basis he was paid their portion; &
    - difference between procurement process which was abrogated & signed contract of 26th April 2006.
    What a mess!

 

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